Volvo, Mercedes drive new S.C. jobs

Mercedes-Benz executive Volker Mornhinweg announced a major expansion of the automaker’s North Charleston van factory last year. It marked one of the state’s largest economic development deals in 2015.

The Charleston region accounted for nearly one-fourth of all capital investment announcements by new and existing businesses in South Carolina last year, according to data released Wednesday by the state Commerce Department.

New manufacturing plants being built by Swedish automaker Volvo and German-based Mercedes-Benz Vans topped the department’s list of announcements, with a combined $1 billion investment and the creation of 3,800 jobs.

For the year, Commerce said it recruited 150 projects planning to invest $4.2 billion and create 17,280 jobs.

“While South Carolina continues to be a leader in the manufacturing renaissance, our economy truly is thriving in multiple sectors,” Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said in a statement. “Cultivating a healthy, diverse economy in all communities across South Carolina is critical.”

The manufacturing sector accounted for $3.6 billion in investment, led by Volvo’s decision to build its first U.S. production factory in Berkeley County and Daimler AG’s plan to expand its Mercedes-Benz Vans site in North Charleston to include full production.

Service-sector projects were led by a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center to be built by retailer Dollar Tree in Cherokee County. That $104.4 million project will import goods through the Port of Charleston and then route them to regional stores.

During a manufacturing forum this week at Trident Technical College, Hitt said the state’s manufacturing sector “is thriving” with a 13 percent increase in sector jobs since 2011, more than any other state in the Southeast. South Carolina now has 236,000 manufacturing jobs, including 25,400 in the Charleston region.

Hitt said Greater Charleston now rivals the Upstate, traditionally the state’s manufacturing hub, for new investment and jobs. He cited the port and plans to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet so it can handle bigger cargo ships as a key to the coastal area’s growth.

Last year’s tally trailed 2014 figures for number of jobs and capital investment. A pair of billion-dollar announcements — BMW’s expansion and Toray Carbon Fibers’ plant, both in Spartanburg County — helped the state top $5 billion in investment and 19,000 new jobs in 2014.

During Hitt’s five-year tenure at Commerce, the state has announced nearly 86,000 new jobs and $23.75 billion in capital investment.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550.